Brave film out of the closet

By Jeff Kubik

While North America grapples with the prospect of institutionalized gay marriage and activists and disparate conservative groups continue battle among themselves, the rest of the world continues to deal with homosexuality and transgender issues. Though we in the West often lose sight of the larger populace, the governments of the developing world clash every day with sexual and gender identities, often violently. Where coming out in the West may mean social anathema, in the developing world it can entail imprisonment, beatings, rape and even execution.

In Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World, director John Scagliotti binds the experiences of homosexuals and transsexuals from around the world, using the story of May 11, 2001, when Cairo’s Queen Boat–a floating discothèque on the Nile–was raided by Egyptian police. Charged with debauchery, 52 men were arrested, convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

Narrated by Janeane Garofalo, the documentary weaves together interviews with activists and victims from countries as diverse as Jamaica, the Philippines, and Namibia, each telling highly personal stories about the horrors of their exploitation. Through these striking contrasts, the film illustrates the shockingly widespread brutality exercised against outed homosexuals across the world.

That it took the wrongful arrest of 52 men to raise the ire of western journalists and audiences is an important consideration for Dangerous Living. Interviews bring highly personal appeals to its larger call for understanding in the developing world. When Honduran activist Dilcia Molina refused to wear a mask in a gay pride demonstration, for example, her house was subsequently broken into, her child and baby-sitter attacked and told, “Where is this bull dyke? We are going to rape her so that she learns not to stick her nose in that business.” Her description of her son’s wounded face, cut by a soldier in a fit of anger, brings the developing world’s harsh reality all too close.

Many of those interviewed were conducted on the condition of anonymity, a fact which speaks volumes.

One of the most unsettling issues raised by the film revolves around the enduring mark of colonial oppression. Drawing parallels between historical artifacts depicting unabashed homosexual activity and archival footage of British attempts to “civilize the savages,” Dangerous Living demonstrates that while many cultures have historically discouraged overt declarations of homosexuality, contemporary governments and religious orders derive their power of stigmatization largely from the influence of their imperial antecedents.

Combined with the focus on the West’s continuing ignorance of sexual identity issues occurring abroad, the documentary serves as a powerful reminder that for many people around the world coming out can be a matter of life and death. It’s a compelling call for attention and action from those who find themselves voiceless in their own countries, both as citizens and the marginalized.

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